Last week, 35 Americans, including Kirk and myself, traveled to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for our sixth Mending the Broken Hearts week there. Many of you know it is my tradition to write the updates of our trips on the plane home. I myself find this a fascinating process because I often have no idea what I’m going to write about it. Our surgical trips are usually so busy that there is not a lot of time to process what I feel the Lord is teaching me until I get quiet on the plane flying home. This week I have actually been intentional in asking the Lord “what are you trying teach me/us through this week?”
I have felt called to praise the role of our dear friend Ed Morrow. He’s a humble man, so he wouldn’t want me to do this, but too bad (he also has a sense of humor, thankfully!). He is the Director of Samaritan’s Purse’s World Medical Mission. Since For Hearts and Souls has partnered with Samaritan’s Purse to do now our sixth pediatric heart surgery trip to Mongolia (and first to Kosovo this past summer) since 2005, I cannot overstate the level of administrative, personal, and spiritual support he is given to our Mending the Broken Hearts team. Despite his own aggressive travel schedule, he commits to being with us in Mongolia and serving as our chaplain. He conducts our daily morning devotions. He mans our hospitality room, making sure we are all fed and watered. He delights us with his sense of humor and endless stories of his family’s years on the mission field in Congo. He serves as counselor to many. And, most importantly and most dear to me and Kirk, he is our faithful prayer warrior. He delights in praying for the children prior to their having their procedures and we know he is consistently praying for us throughout the days and nights as we conduct our week. There are new members to our team each year, but the most frequent question most veterans ask is: “Is Ed coming?” I doubt he’ll know this side of heaven the impact he has had on the faith of many individual members of our team.
This year Ed’s travel schedule prevented him from being in Mongolia during the Mending the Broken Hearts week. However, as a little gift to me and Kirk, his travel schedule did allow him to be in Mongolia for Samaritan’s Purse business the week prior. Kirk and I; Brandon Phillips, another pediatric cardiologist; Kayleen Lundstrom, our scrub tech; John Souto and Todd Poor, our biomedical engineers; and Bart Hensler, our perfusionist, actually arrived several days prior to the rest of the team in the hopes of conducting one surgery on Friday for a young man, Batulzii, who had his first heart surgery in San Antonio, is now over 18 and ineligible for the Children’s Heart Project, and needs a follow-up surgery. The schedule of Dr. John Kupferschmid, our pediatric heart surgeon, unfortunately did not allow him to be there as planned (it turned out that Batulzii was sick and couldn’t have had surgery anyway….God knows!). Our being there early gave us extra time for getting organized for the week ahead and for screening more children for heart disease…and for spending time with Ed!
One morning after we all had met for breakfast the rest of the team had left the table and Ed told Kirk and me that he had something to tell us. It’s like the old E.F. Hutton commercial: when Ed talks, people listen! He told us that he had been awakened in the middle of the night and felt like the Lord was telling him we had a hard week ahead. He clarified that he’s not a dramatic person and this is not a usual occurrence for him (he said it had only happened to him one other time in his life), but that it had actually frightened him. If you’ve followed these updates, you know we’ve had some hard times. In 2006, we lost Undermaa after her surgery. In 2007, we lost Bogi. This past summer, our team in Kosovo was involved in a bus accident where three out of the four young men in the car that hit us lost their lives. We believe in a loving, sovereign, all-powerful God, but I would be lying if I told you that most of us who have been through this don’t have some post-traumatic stress from having gone through all of this. We took his words as a call to prayer. This was our sixth surgical trip to Mongolia. The care and conditions there have actually improved dramatically enough that our concern is that we will start to rest on our ability and our strength and not rest on the power of God that works through us: “unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it (Psalm 127:1).” Before he left on Sunday morning, he met with the team on Saturday night for a devotion and told us about his experience and his concerns. He called us to prayer. And he brought a cross for us to write down and tape to it whatever it was that was distracting and entangling us from our work. He also called us to be loving and patient with one another as team members. Although we missed his daily devotions throughout the rest of the week, Tom Mangham, the Mongolian country director for Samaritan’s Purse, filled in more than ably and blessed us with his devotions each morning. Ed’s devotion also carried us. Team members including myself talked throughout the week about more things we needed to put on the cross. That imagery lasted throughout the week. And, though we had our failures, I think I saw the most progress in us truly living up to Ed’s admonition to love and support each other as team members throughout the week.
I in no way desire to be arrogant, but I think it’s important to understand that what we do is very, very hard. Pediatric heart surgery in the United States is very, very hard. Take that to a third world country and it’s exponentially hard. I can say without hesitation that our international surgical weeks are the hardest and most exhausting of my year. Add to that a team of highly skilled and, by necessity, highly controlling individuals who have a touch of post-traumatic stress disorder and it can be explosive! I confess that sometimes it’s not pretty! Ed reminded us of that and rightfully cautioned us at the week’s outset.
On Sunday morning, we went to church and immediately saw Bogi’s mom. This year is the second anniversary of Bogi’s death. On the morning after Bogi’s death two years ago, her parents met each team member with a book mark handwritten with the following Scriptures: “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:4)“ and “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58)“. This year Bogi’s mom told us that September is her favorite time of the year because she knows families are being helped. During the service, she prayed powerfully for the children and families who were going to receive care. Seeing her there, I replayed in my mind pictures and images of that last week with beautiful Bogi. As we were singing praise songs, I couldn’t stop crying and asking God to please not let us hurt anyone this year. I think that is the simple prayer of many of our hearts on the team: “oh please, Lord, just let there be no death this year.”
On Monday, our usual caution of “expect the unexpected” in Mongolia occurred and we were unable to do any cases in the cath lab. We did, however, do two cases in the O.R. and it went well. On Tuesday, we did three cases in the cath lab and two cases in the O.R. and that all went well. I started having theological discussions with myself: “Well, maybe Ed warned us and we prayed and it’s all going to be fine.” Then Wednesday came. We did four cases in the cath lab. The fourth was supposed to be the easiest and quickest and it was the longest and hardest and the news wasn’t good. The lovely young girl we were taking care of has an inoperable condition and there was nothing more we could do for her. We did two cases in the O.R. and they were long and challenging. We finished late. Everyone was tired. And the first surgical case of the day, Anuujin, was not doing well. I think most of the team left for the hotel sometime after 8 p.m. and, in addition to our regular ICU team who stays all night, a number of us stayed until well past 11 p.m. putting our heads together and trying to figure out what was best for her. As it was all transpiring, I knew Wednesday was what Ed had been warning us about. Team members were short with each other. And many of us were somewhat fearful and thinking “please! Not again!” Kirk always tells the team that God will put is in the position during the week to drive us to our knees and to depend on Him. This year, it was Wednesday.
On Thursday morning, we were relieved to see that Anuujin had held her ground through the night. She slowly got better throughout the day and by Friday she was literally miraculously better. We thought we were going to have to transport her across town to the Children’s Hospital on Friday for continued care in their pediatric ICU as our team was preparing to leave the country, but this turned out to be unnecessary. We did two more surgeries and three caths on Thursday and two caths on Friday. In total, we did eight surgeries and twelve caths and, by God’s grace, all children are doing well.
Kirk did the devotions on Friday. He reflected on all that had transpired through the week. And he asked us to individually ask for forgiveness for those we had been short with and to thank those who had blessed us by their service. I love these teams and the people on them. Many of us count each other among our dearest friends. We look forward to reuniting and serving in Mongolia together. But it blessed me to see an extra measure of team love and unity than I think I had witnessed before. To those other people on the team reading this, forgive me for any way in which I fell short or caused offense this week. And thank you for your loving and sacrificial service. Thank you, Ed, for reminding us that they will know we are Christians by our love, one for another (John 13:35). On that last morning, Caley Johns and Deanna Smith, our two child life specialists, shared about some family members and patients they had led to the Lord during the week. These Mongolians had testified that our love and care and concern for them, their children, and each other demonstrated to them that we were in some way different…and this testimony allowed Caley and Deanna to share the only thing different about us is Jesus. Our ministry name is For Hearts and Souls. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36) What will it profit these children and their families if we fix their hearts and do nothing for their souls? We are all like these children. We have broken hearts that need fixing and that fixing comes by a free gift. Jesus died that we might live and all we need to do is accept that free gift (John 3:16). That is why we do what we do: all because of Jesus.
As I fly home, Kirk, 26 other Americans, and 16 Mongolians are in western Mongolia for the Searching for the Broken Hearts week. They will screen hundreds of children for congenital heart disease, and share the gospel with them and their families. We felt the prayers of those of you at home during the Mending week. Continue to pray for the Searching team and for all they come in contact with.
Since Kirk separated from the Air Force in June in order to devote himself to full-time ministry, his travel schedule has been and will continue to be aggressive. Prior to this trip, since July, he had been in Malawi, Zambia, Iraq, Mongolia, and Kosovo. After the Searching week, he will join friends of ours on a team from Calvary Chapel Maui in Nepal. They will trek three days to minister to a nomadic tribe that follows monkeys. He will return to the U.S. on October 23, be home for about three days, and head to Honduras. He heads back to Iraq in November. Please keep him in your prayers as he travels.
Thank you, as always, for your love, encouragement, support, and prayers. Soli Deo Gloria.